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More than half of women and two in five men lost their virginity before they were ready, according to a new study.
And researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that this might even have long-term impacts on health and wellbeing.
Writing in the journal BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health, sexual health researcher Kaye Wellings revealed that between a quarter and a third of respondents said they first had sex at 16 but nearly 52 per cent of women and 44 per cent of men were not 'ready' when they lost their virginity.
"A substantial proportion of young people in Britain transition into sexual activity under circumstances incompatible with positive sexual health," she wrote in the study, which looked at heterosexual intercourse among 2,800 sexually active Brits between the ages of 17 and 24.
"The fact is that first sexual intercourse is a very salient event - only around 3% of people can't remember when it happened," Wellings added to The Guardian. "If it turns into a miserable experience then it colours subsequent experience and that is a shame for young people because it is an important part of life and of their relationships."
Wellings also explained how having a legal age of consent could pressure some people into feeling they need to have sex at 16.
"The message from the paper is not 'scrap age, let them have sex at 12'. It is much more about the variability, that actually you might be 17, 18, 19 and not be ready," she said.
But Wellings is hopeful that effective education can help improve the sexual health and wellbeing of young people, saying: "It is possible that targeted interventions aimed at enabling at-risk young people to have a more positive and healthy first sexual experience may result in improvements in sexual health that continue into adulthood."
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